Deer Creek firefighters escape flames with tale to tell

Deer Creek firefighters escape flames with tale to tell

4 February 2009

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USA — Sunday was a rather average midwinter afternoon: Clear, sunny skies, a nice day, Deer Creek Firefighter Michael Montgomery said.

Today, he is thankful to have survived the suddenly harrowing day with only “minor” burns.

Shortly after lunch, Deer Creek’s fire department received a call about a grass fire. It began on Saturday and rekindled on Sunday morning, forcing Crescent fire officials to call in mutual aid assistance to once again try and stop the blaze from destroying more land and homes. One home was destroyed Saturday in the blaze that ultimately scorched about 2,000 acres.

Montgomery and Deer Creek Capt. Kelly Lewis got into a 2008 Ford brush pumper and drove to the location, 5.5 miles north of Crescent off the east side of State Highway 74.

The fire started from a controlled burn that had gotten out of control Saturday due to strong southwesterly winds, said Eric Harlow, assistant Deer Creek fire chief. Firefighters had the fire under control Saturday night, but early Sunday a cold front moved through, causing the winds to shift around to the northeast, Harlow said.

“This caused the fire to regain its intensity and move back the opposite direction over unburned lands,” Harlow said.

Montgomery and Lewis went to the head of the fire and coordinated with brush pumper trucks from other fire departments. Montgomery said initially, the flames were small, nothing ominous.

However, they were moving “pretty rapidly.”

Montgomery said large piles of cedar trees in the area made the fire difficult to fight.

“You’d get one put out, and then see another go up,” he said.

After refilling their water supply on the other side of S.H. 74, their attention was drawn to a large wall of flames threatening a metal barn, Montgomery said. They returned to the fire and positioned their truck so its rear was facing the flames.

Moments later, in a matter of seconds, more intense wind fanned the flames, which came upon the truck and the firefighters. The flames were 20-30 feet tall, Montgomery recalled, and they were moving faster than expected.

While Lewis was heading to the driver’s side, the flames got him, Montgomery said. Yet, Lewis had the strength to get in the truck and get the firefighters out of harm’s way, Montgomery said.

“I knew we were going to get out,” Montgomery said. “Death never crossed my mind. How badly I was going to be burned did.”

Montgomery said he wanted to return to the fray, but was ordered to keep away.

“I didn’t want to go in the first place,” Montgomery said. “I wanted to stay and fight the fire.”

Lewis sustained first- and second-degree burns to his arms, hands, face and neck. Montgomery escaped with burns to his face, thanks to his bunker gear, he said. Both were taken to Integris Baptist Burn Center, treated and released later that evening.

Montgomery said Lewis’ actions — driving them away from the flames while suffering from his burns — speak for themselves. Lewis, expected to be out for at least 2-3 weeks, requested privacy.

Montgomery said he wanted to thank the firefighters and others who sprayed water on them and cared for their burns.

Fire crews from as far away as Hennessey, Pond Creek and Okarche assisted local crews in the blaze, Harlow said. Logan County District 2 assisted with a bulldozer and road grader. The Logan County Chapter of the American Red Cross provide fire crews with refreshments and rehabilitation.

By 10 p.m. Sunday night, the fire was once again under control.

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